Today was essentially a day of well-needed rest. Our group has been pressing forward at full throttle since the beginning of our trip. This morning, we did not need to board the bus until 10:30, which we did, to make our way to St. George’s Cathedral, an Anglican church founded in 1899 and the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem. The church, though not as grand as some other large churches we have visited, was beautiful. It was refreshing to be in church once again to worship. We also thoroughly enjoyed the organ postlude. The organist was magnificent. As the tones filled the cathedral, tears filled my eyes.
We were then dropped off at the Jaffa gate for an hour and twenty minutes for lunch. We all scattered to find something to eat and to do some shopping. Most of us re-boarded the bus for a return trip to the hotel to relax for the afternoon, while a few stayed on in the old city to find their way back on their own a little later. It was wonderful to stroll down the streets of Old Jerusalem with stores lining the narrow lanes, vendors hawking their wares as we passed by.
This is essentially the mid-point of our trip, and time for a few reflections. First of all, the trip, as you could ascertain from my previous posts, has been wonderful, even exceeding my expectations. Visiting the Holy Land with the wonderful people from our church has only enhanced the beatitudes of being here. I was quite struck with the beauty and lusciousness of northern Israel – From the slopes of Mt. Carmel to the Jezreel Valley, to the shores of Galilee, and up into the Golan Heights. I was equally struck with the rugged, untamed beauty of the Judean deserts as one winds his way down to Jericho from Galilee through the West Bank. The barrenness of the area surrounding the dead sea is striking, Masada and Qumran exemplifying the same. The cities of the Holy Land are busy and hectic: From Tel Aviv, to Nazareth, to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem. Israel possesses an alluring loveliness that is almost irresistible.
My top three highlights from the trip thus far, based mainly on the powerful emotional impact I felt while visiting the sites, are:
Number One: Our boat excursion on the Sea of Galilee, participating in the Holy Eucharist while surveying the surrounding shores where Jesus conducted his ministry.
Number Two: Kneeling in the Church of the Agony, with my hand upon the rock in the place where Jesus knelt, pouring out his soul to the Father over his impending crucifixion and forsakenness.
Number Three: Visiting the House of Peter in Capernaum, where I felt so close to the daily life and activities of Jesus of Nazareth. To stand where he spent so much time walking, and talking, and laughing, and eating, and drinking, and sleeping, and just being human. Someone commented during our devotion time in the Garden of Gethsemane how that we have been made more acutely aware of the humanity of Christ while in the Holy Land. Jesus was flesh and blood who lived and loved on this terrain. He was made flesh and took upon himself the form of a servant. He was not an illusion, a phantom, but truly God and truly man in human flesh. The incarnation is proclaimed and made real in Israel.
Well… enough sermonizing. Tomorrow, our busy schedule resumes. Our bus leaves at 7:30 for a trip to the Old City, beginning with the Western Wall. I can’t wait!